Chrome OS: Cheaper Netbooks on the Horizon?

Google last week took the wraps off its brand-new lightweight operating system, Chrome OS. Optimized to work with web apps, it makes the browser the center of the computing experience.

Over on GigaOM Pro (subscription required), Ed Gubbins is pondering whether the new OS could usher in a new era of super-cheap netbooks:

“Google is in a unique position to set the price at whatever point will lure consumers to its new model. After all, the company makes money almost anytime someone uses the web. So when it offers free Wi-Fi in dozens of airports over the holidays to promote its Chrome browser, as it’s doing this year, it’s not just eating that cost as a marketing expense; it’s monetizing most of those eyeballs through ad revenue. Similar math could justify netbooks at prices drastically cheaper than today’s, especially if Google leverages the closer relationship it would have with these netbook users.”

I’m not sure I’d be too happy about giving up some of my privacy for slightly cheaper hardware, but I suspect that’s not true of the general population. As long as the OS is usable and does everything that they want it to, my feeling is that most people will look for the lower-cost option.

Also on GigaOM Pro is a new report from James Kendrick, “Google Chrome OS: What to Expect,” which takes a look at what we might see from Chrome when it’s launched next year. Particularly interesting is his observation that Chrome “will pull the user into the Google cloud firmly, and while Google will point out that users can access the entire web, the OS will be optimized for use with Google’s web services.” That’s fine if you’re primarily using Google’s services — as many web workers already are  — though I’m not sure I’d be all that happy about putting all of my eggs (apps, browser, OS, data — everything!) in one Google-shaped basket. He also notes that “Hardware vendors are going to jump on the Chrome OS bandwagon in numbers, as they have long wanted an alternative to Windows. The open-source nature of Chrome will further that movement, as vendors will be able to customize the Google computer to fit their business objectives.” This means that even if you’re not keen on Chrome OS, it’s going to be pretty hard to ignore if you’re in the market for a netbook next year.

Chrome OS is an interesting experiment, especially for web workers who already spend a good deal of time working with web apps. It’s likely that the change that we’ve seen over the last few years — applications and functionality moving from the desktop to the web — will continue, meaning that in the future, the browser will completely dominate the computing experience. If that’s the case, whether Chrome OS is successful or not (and with Google’s monetary clout, it will at least have a very good chance), making the browser into the operating system is the next logical step.

What do you think of Chrome OS? Would cheaper hardware be worth sacrificing a little privacy for?

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